Inspiration of November Ten
Many people who commemorate Ataturk on November tenth recall him within the confines of Turkey and/or his specific achievements. Yet, remembering his intellect that drove him to all those achievements would be a more appropriate and accurate recollection of him. For recalling his military successes, alone or foremost, is only a recognition of his achievements in his profession. Whereas, he exemplified, not only military leadership, but also diplomatic and political leadership by lifting a nation from the ashes of an Empire to the heights of a modern nation-state.
His diplomatic skills were instrumental in defeating the three WWI victorious colonial powers occupying his country. He took France and Italy out from the battlefield to the negotiation table, neutralized them and even gained some of their support for defeating the third occupying power. This maneuver isolated the only inimical power who stubbornly continued fighting through her surrogate Greek forces. England was ultimately humiliated to the degree of asking for truce and ousting her wartime government, while dragging along her surrogate to a similar ending.
His acceptance of Russia’s Bolshevik government’s financial and military materiel assistance in the liberation war while disallowing the Bolshevik attempts to open offices in the country is another example of diplomatic prowess.
His exemplary diplomatic achievement was, of course, to have the victorious powers of WWI to recognize Türkiye. The Ottoman Empire was the only defeated power in WW, which ultimately came out victorious under Atatürk’s leadership, by replacing the never effectuated death certificate of the Ottoman Empire, Sevres Treaty, with the birth certificate of a nationhood and a republican regime, Lausanne Treaty. This was a historically unique diplomatic feat followed by Montreux and Hatay Treaties, which peacefully complemented the Lausanne Treaty. The world has not observed such peaceful solutions to international conflicts since, which conversely witnessed and continues to witness numerous regional conflicts. His all-other achievements are researched and etched in myriad of books for perpetuity, the edifice of “the Republic” is on the sole world map for eternity.
As to his political prowess we need to recall the transformative leadership he exhibited in lifting an entire population from an apathetic state to the dynamism of the modern world. His passion was to bring a society neglected during the dysfunctional second half of the six-hundred-year empire, to participate in contemporary civilization. This monumental objective required self-governance, thus self-awareness of society, which in turn necessitated educated, free-thinking, enlightened citizens, not by way of a chaotic revolution, of which history witnessed many.
Social and cultural transition for becoming a contributory participant in the advanced world necessitated fundamental reforms, like the revival of the national history, national language, national identity for self-awareness, then a general mobilization for education; all were to replace the previous religious based Arabic influenced system. Then came the freedom of individuals. First and foremost was the gender equality; the emancipation of women was ahead of its time when compared to the practices of several contemporary advanced countries. Accordingly, public education and science were assigned priority in the reformation efforts.
After such fundamental and sweeping social and cultural transition, the sustenance of a republican democratic regime may only be secured if the transitional changes were thoroughly absorbed, established, and matured in the society, which requires the perseverance of several generations on the democratic reform track. An obvious example is the more than four centuries from medieval to modern times that took the Western transformation to settle in. That is why Atatürk attributed all achievements to the people for internalizing, for personal ownership of the reforms, although they have always emanated from his mind.
The sustenance of a republican democratic regime also needs dynamism to be able to stand at the frontier of progress where the future can be visioned to conform to the requirements of evolving times. He must have been cognizant of this when he inculcated the continuity and constancy of advancement and progress. He repeatedly and strongly condemned dogmatism and ideology. He bequeathed the sustenance of the republic to the youth to ensure the dynamism of the democratic regime.
This fundamental transition was put into effect while observing lawfulness and moral values, like patiently carrying out consultation, discussion, persuasion even with opponents in search of a general agreement peacefully and lawfully. This is a leadership characteristic to be emulated by those who claim such a position.
A final and very important note to add to this system of thinking is that no progress could be achieved without the presence of a peaceful environment. Accordingly, he expressed his conviction that a nation could progress only together with all others. Hence, he perceived and conceived progress in concert with the entire humanity.
In sum, he should not be remembered in abstract events or times, actions or statements. Every one of his successes is the product of the same mind, and for a given ideal or objective. They did not occur at whim or incidental to events; they are all related and consequential of each other; they are part of a sum, which is more valuable than the unit. Atatürk would be remembered best as a system of thought of human progress and peace.
The Ataturk Society of America endeavors to disseminate this intellectual perspective of Ataturk. The Society was helped in its endeavors over the years with speeches, lectures, articles or books by renown academics like Profs. Bernard Lewis, Leslie Lipson, Talat Halman, Behram Kursunoglu, Turkan Saylan, politicians like Senator Robert Byrd, Secretary Chuck Hegel, and researchers like Andrew Mango, to name a few. And, of course, there are also a multitude of scholarly publications analyzing his intellectual aspect. The centennial celebration of the Republic this year may be another occasion to remind the world of Ataturk’s intellectual legacy.
September 29, 2023
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Atatürk Society of America